Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Historic England supported the Wilton’s Music Hall Trust at important points along its journey. Today Wilton’s hosts a wide range of activities, from plays to opera, puppetry to magic shows. The Trust also hosts a year-round education programme of talks and tours. Wilton’s has firmly reinstated itself as part of London’s vibrant arts scene.

Where: London Borough of Tower Hamlet's

Years on register: 1990 - 2016

From music hall to soup kitchen

Wilton’s is situated in the heart of London, a short walk from the Tower of London. Built in 1859, it started life as a music hall, hosting singing and dancing for the East End community and visitors to the city.

Its days as a music hall, however, were relatively short lived. In 1881 the building was purchased by the Wesleyan Methodist Mission. This was reportedly a welcome change from the rowdy behaviour of some visitors to Wilton’s. Under its new ownership, the building was used as a soup kitchen feeding thousands of local dockers’ families.

The exterior of Wilton’s Music Hall
The hidden entrance to the Grade II* listed Wilton’s Music Hall on Graces Alley © Historic England DP113808

Campaign to save Wilton's led by artists

The fate of Wilton’s turned in the 1960s when the building was earmarked for demolition as part of a slum clearance project. A high profile campaign to save the building followed, led by the poet John Betjeman. Wilton’s soon had a strong following, including well known names such as Spike Milligan.

The Grade II* listing of the building in 1971 was a real milestone. This gave Wilton’s the protection it so richly deserved. The Wilton’s Music Hall Trust was set up shortly after.

See Wilton's Music Hall entry on the National Heritage List

The auditorium of Wilton’s Music Hall
The auditorium of Wilton’s Music Hall © Historic England

Years of hard work paid off

The Trust worked tirelessly to raise the profile of Wilton’s, hosting ambitious theatre and music programmes. Both artists and the public were drawn by its undeniable charm. But significant repairs were needed - parts of the building were unsafe and unusable, with leaking roofs, widespread damp and decaying interiors.

The Trust’s hard work finally paid off in 2012, with generous donations from a number of organisations and individuals. A large grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund followed in 2013. After a four year £4 million project, Wilton’s Music Hall finally reopened as a modern performance space in September 2015. The building was removed from the Heritage at Risk Register the following year.

We’re delighted that Wilton’s has now been shortlisted for a Historic England Angel Award; a fitting tribute to all those who campaigned to save this important piece of London’s history.

The interior of Wilton’s Music Hall
The interior of Wilton’s Music Hall with its distinctive barley-twist columns © Historic England DP150216

How we made a difference

Historic England supported the Wilton’s Music Hall Trust at important points along its journey.

In the early 1970s, when Wilton’s was threatened with demolition, we recommended that it was listed at Grade II*. This gave the building the protection it so richly deserved.

More recently, we advised on survey work to help better understand the significance and condition of the building, and helped guide the project team on their approach to conservation. The ‘conservative repair’ of the building gives it real charm and helps to tell its complex story.

Visit

Wilton’s Music Hall has a year-round programme of events and is well worth a visit.

Plan a visit to Wilton's Music Hall

Wilton's Music Hall Mezzanine area
The Mezzanine in Wilton's Music Hall © Steven Jones

20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register

This year we are celebrating 20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register, Historic England’s tool for shining a light on the listed buildings and places in England that need most help. Looking back over the last 20 years, huge progress has been made in saving our heritage and giving it new uses.

See more of our top 20 heritage rescues

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